A monthly series presented by the Hyde Park Herald and Susan O’Connor Davis, author of “Chicago’s Historic Hyde Park,” published by University of Chicago Press.
By SUSAN O’CONNOR DAVIS
There are some who move from place to place without so much as a backward glance. But for many of us the thought of leaving the family home, packed memories and years of accumulated stuff is just too much to bear. For anyone who has ever suffered through packing boxes with mounds of Styrofoam peanuts, here’s an ideal solution: Just take your whole house, furniture and all, and plop it in another location.
In the decade following the Chicago Fire, this concept – house moving – became quite common. While no new wooden structures were allowed within the fire limits, the relocation of frame houses was permitted within all but a few areas. Eventually the City Council was forced to revise the building code to address problems caused by relocating hundreds of residences each year. In order to curb the enthusiasm for these moves, anyone desiring to relocate a house was required to take out a license, post a $10,000 bond and pay a five dollar permit fee for the move. This 1883 ruling did little to dampen the moves; the number of permits issued rose from 726 in 1884 to a record high of 1,710 in 1890.
Yet this seems a small price to pay for the benefits, and the moves were not restricted to the city center. In fact, there are a number of early houses that have been shifted around the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods well into the 20th century. Many were built on strong timber sills, and others were built with balloon framing — light yet sturdy construction — so lifting them off their foundations was not a complicated task. Quite simply the process goes like this: Movers dig down and cut openings in the foundation. Beams that bear the weight of the house during the move are inserted into these openings. Hydraulic jacks lift the beams, wheels are then attached to this new substructure and off you go.
In addition to being cost effective and fun to watch, the advantages are twofold: historic structures live on in a new location and owners move right in once the house is set on its new foundation. Two of my favorite houses, designed in the moody Gothic style, were cherished enough by their owners to be relocated at a time when many others were demolished as land values increased and land usage changed.
The tall gray frame at 1229 E. 50th St. in Kenwood is one early example of a relocated house. It resides on a small portion of a 20-acre stretch of land that was originally purchased in 1868 by the irascible John H. Dunham. He plotted the private grounds of Madison Park the following year, with lots typically 25 feet wide by 150 feet deep.
The most recent owners of the house, John and Charlotte Schuermann, know their house was relocated because of an article in the April 7, 1933 issue of the Hyde Park Herald. That story goes that Mrs. Caldwell, wife of A. J. Caldwell, residents of 1229, recalled that the house was originally on 47th Street and “was moved south when that street became commercial.” Although the date of the move was not given, a bit of detective work pieces the story together.
The Schuermanns believe that the house was originally constructed at 47th Street and Greenwood Avenue (old number 218 47th St.). There is combined evidence for this assumption: the image in “Picturesque Kenwood” of a house with steeply pitched cross gables and pedimented entry is shown at the south side of 47th Street at Greenwood Avenue. Additionally, a frame house with a nearly similar floor plan is found in that particular location in “Rasher’s Atlas” for 1890. Who built it and who moved it — those answers remain unknowns.
One of the previous owners was Herald Publisher Bruce Sagan who owned the house in the 1950’s. It was shown in the spring 1955 as part of the Kenwood open house program.
We do know who built and moved another Hyde Park Gothic-style house, which was for much of its existence it was apparently used as rental property. First owned by the Presbyterian Seminary of the Northwest, by 1881 the house and land at 5336 S. Park St. were sold to a partnership between Marshall Field, of the department store fame, and railroad magnate George Pullman. They held the property until 1909.
The house was then sold and moved from Hyde Park to the South Shore neighborhood for J.B. and Mary Watson. During the summer of 1912, a barge took the house several miles south to 7716 S. Lake, where it was set on a new foundation facing the blue waters over which it had just travelled.
For decades that followed, Lawrence Heyworth and his second wife Marguerite occupied the house, but the moves were not yet over. The son of an affluent real estate developer, Heyworth was raised on one of Chicago’s most fashionable streets, Prairie Avenue. After studying engineering at Yale University, he returned to Chicago to work for contractor George A. Fuller, whose company oversaw the construction of the famous Monadnock and Rookery buildings, and locally, the Hyde Park Hotel.
Heyworth purchased property on nearby South Shore Drive and was issued a foundation permit in May 1918. He presumably purchased the Field-Pullman house while in its lakefront location at 7716, after the land was sold to the city for the establishment of a public park in 1917.
The charming residence then made its way to 7651 South Shore Drive where it remains today, although it has been threatened with demolition by developers. It location was prime for Heyworth, for in in 1906 he founded the nearby South Shore Country Club and commissioned Benjamin Marshall to design the lavish Mediterranean-inspired clubhouse, which functions today as the South Shore Cultural Center.
While a number of alterations over the years have changed the character of the two-story frame house, its steeply peaked roofline and stately, columned porch provide a reminder of its former grandeur. An early plan of the house dating from 1890 shows the simple massing and cruciform plan typical of the style. The house had an addition by this time, a flat-roofed one-story wing, and before it was moved by barge a large columned porch was added. The Heyworths sold their house in 1944.
Not all houses were so lucky to survive by a move. In spite of all that had been lost in North Kenwood over the years, when the city designated the community as a Historic District in 1993 an early house designed by Prairie School architect George Maher was included. However even a landmarks designation could not save the residence that stood at 44th Street and Greenwood Avenue for more than a century. When the Chicago Park District purchased the property to expand a neighborhood play lot, the three-story turreted house was offered for free in the hope that it could be preserved on another location. There were no takers, and in 1997, the neighborhood lost an irreplaceable treasure.